I am starting to get more and more emails from you all, sharing your own personal questions and comments about what I’m writing. Thank you all for doing that and for taking the time to share. I will do my best to answer all of you individually, but realize that as the mailbox gets more and more full, that may be hard to do.
That said, I did get a few emails this past week asking for my thoughts about the highest loft wedge you should carry, so I thought that would make a good topic for today’s post. But first, let me share that I did my first GolfWRX podcast this week, and had a great time doing it. You can listen here.
So, now on to the big question that so many golfers have: What is the highest loft wedge I should carry?
Let me start with a bit of history of putting wedges in our bags, as that might help make sense of the subject for each of you.
After the invention of the sand wedge in the 1930s, a design generally credited to Gene Sarazen, most golfers began to carry one. Did you know that the 1930s was also the decade that witnessed one of the greatest contributions to modern golf clubs, the numbered and matched set of irons? Well, from that time through the 1940s, most golfers relegated that club to only those shots hit from the sand. Most “sand wedges” from that time until the mid-1980s were about 55-56 degrees in loft, but loft was not a specification that many paid much attention to. Sets of irons had a “pitching wedge” of about 50-52 degrees, and that was the more generally used wedge for greenside shots. However, in his 1949 book, “Power Golf,” Ben Hogan wrote that the sand wedge could be a great tool for certain greenside shots.
Through the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, most of golf’s biggest stars only carried one “wedge” after their set-match pitching wedge. Many of them used that club to great success, and we witnessed near genius in the likes of Tom Watson, Phil Rogers, Seven Ballesteros and others.
It was the late 1980s, I believe, when Tom Kite began using the first 60-degree wedge to great success. They say he was deadly from his “magic number” — 63 yards, as I remember. I do know those first 60-degree wedges had very large heavy soles, with very pronounced camber from front to back. And they were very difficult to master for most recreational golfers.
Since that time, the higher lofted wedges began to take on more of the look of the traditional sand wedge, and the loft selection was expanded in both directions, with this design applied to wedges as low as 46 degrees and as high as 64. I believe Phil Mickelson gave the lofts over 60 degrees more visibility and curiosity than anyone.
So, with all these choices, what do each of you do with regard to deciding how high to go with the loft of your wedges? The reality is that the answer to that question is different for everyone but let me try to help you make sense of the process.
My observation is that the lofts over about 57-58 degrees are much more challenging to master for most recreational golfers. As loft increases above that level, controlling ball flight and distance becomes more and more difficult. Most golfers just have a hard time making as full a swing as required to move the ball a given distance with these high loft wedges. That said, I have seen recreational golfers that do a great job and use their high-loft wedges to great utility. But that number is very small in my estimation.
The biggest “fail” with the high loft wedges is making contact with the leading edge or very low on the face, either of which imparts much more dynamic force to the ball and sends it screaming over the green into a worse lie than you started with. Right behind that is the tendency to “bail out” on this fuller swing and decelerate before impact, laying the sod over on the ball, and having a similar result.
I do believe that mastering the higher lofted wedges of 60-64 degrees requires a great deal of practice, hitting all kinds of shots from whatever distance you consider “full” to delicate greenside chips and pitches. If you can take the time to do that, then you might turn that high-loft wedge into a powerful scoring tool. But if you don’t…well, my bet is that it will cost you more shots than it saves.
As I’ve already shared, I firmly believe you should select wedges that give you consistent distance differentials on full swings from your set-match 9-iron or “P-club,” all the way down to your 56-58 wedge. For most golfers that differential should be not more than 12-13 yards for optimum scoring. Depending on your strength profile, those loft differences could be as wide as 5-6 degrees, but 4 seems like it works for the vast majority of golfers.
Whether you choose to carry a wedge with a higher loft than that should be left to your own experiences with it, and an honest assessment as to whether that club should have a place in your bag.
The Wedge Guy: A shot to a spot
Over the past few years, golf has entered the statistical era, with the help of ShotLink, launch monitors, and “strokes gained.” As more and more data is analyzed, much is being written about which parts of the game are most important to scoring and winning out on tour.
It started out with “strokes gained-putting” as maybe the best indicator, but of late, we are reading more and more about ‘strokes gained-shotmaking’, which is the measure of a golfer’s ability to keep it in play and hit greens in regulation.
However, the statistics on strokes gained on tour are very different from the game most recreational golfers play. Realize that “out there”, all these guys are extraordinarily skilled in every aspect of the game, so what separates the winner from the “also-rans” in any given week drills down to a very few specific things. That is a far cry from the game you play week in and week out.
So, what about your game?
From my observation, for almost any recreational golfer, hitting 2-3 more greens per round does two things for you. 1) It gives you that many more birdie tries, and you’ll just have to make some of them. And 2) it takes that much heat off your scrambling. For the average golfer, a missed green leads to a bogey or worse more often than not. Very few recreational golfers can come close to an up-and-down percentage of anywhere near 50%, and most are around 20% at best. Think about that.
So, here’s one way to look at how you might be able to hit more greens in regulation. On the PGA Tour, greens-in-regulation percentage drops by almost half on shots from the rough over shots from the fairway. If that doesn’t hammer home the importance of hitting fairways, I don’t know what will.
Growing up in the era of persimmon drivers – which I’m sure many of you completely missed – the driver was for positioning the ball in the right part of the fairway for an approach shot, not for just blasting as far “that way” as possible. The top players of the era hit their drives to particular spots that allowed for the best approach to the green, and they didn’t let it “all out” all that often.
In his 1949 book “Power Golf” Ben Hogan, listed his ‘regular’ distance with a driver as 265, but his ‘maximum’ as 300. Who keeps 35 yards in reserve for only those times when you really need it?
So, here’s a little experiment for you the next time you can get out for a “practice nine” in the afternoon or early morning.
Each time you hit a drive in the rough, walk it out to the fairway and then back 10 to 15 yards. My bet is that you’ll find that the hole plays a bit easier, even though you have a longer club in your hands for your approach shot.
Then think about how much better you might score if you thought of each drive as a comfortably controlled shot to a spot, rather than just “hit it that way as far as I can.”
Just something to change the game a bit and keep it interesting.
The Jamaica Golf Experience
I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.
The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.
The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.
The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.
While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.
Day One: Half Moon Golf Club
Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.
Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.
The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.
Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.
Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.
Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.
Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.
The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.
Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill
Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.
Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.
Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.
I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.
As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.
Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.
Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.
The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.
The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.
The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.
Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.
Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.
Club Junkie: Reviewing New Bettinardi BB and Inovai putters!
Bettinardi has new and updated putters for their BB and Inovai putter lines. I have been rolling a ton of putts (indoors, unfortunately) with both the BB-8W and the Inovai Rev 8.0 and they are really solid (read our launch piece here).
BB series is now made from stainless steel and has a new face milling that offers much better feel. The new Inovai 8.0 has a great, toned-down shape with the new Roll Control face for reducing hopping and skidding and producing forward roll.
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